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The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Democrats' future

Profiles about liberal bloggers have been popular in the news during recent months. The Washington Monthly has one on Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (The Daily Kos), while Vanity Fair profiled Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post) in November.

If the Republicans have become the party of the think tank, the Democrats have become the party of the blog. One can imagine an elephant at a Heritage Foundation cocktail party, discussing Hannibal's tactics with Victor Davis Hanson and laughing at John Kerry with Grover Norquist. Likewise, one can imagine a donkey busily blogging in the wake of another Jack Abramoff scandal.

Let's focus on the Democrats. The blog is portrayed as a less effective tool than the think tank. Washington Monthly writer Benjamin Wallace-Wells explains: "Moulitsas is just basically uninterested in the intellectual and philosophical debates that lie behind the daily political trench warfare." Wallace-Wells adds that "the more that the Democratic Party turns to Moulitsas for help, the more the limits to his movement become apparent, the less the raw animus of many liberals for the Iraq war seems likely to translate into any lasting liberal movement, and the more the current obsession with his brand of Winnerism looks misplaced."

Is this a legitimate critique? Are voters really seeking a philosophy behind candidates? George W. Bush and the Republicans have profited by exploiting red-state Americans' feelings about issues that don't directly affect most people: the estate tax and gay marriage, for instance. There is an element to Republican politics that is as visceral as any Howard Dean speech.

That said, the Democrats must settle on a response to the Republicans. They still haven't done so. Some ideas:

National security. If the Democrats really think that we should leave Iraq, they should join people like Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania. There are persuasive reasons for it: The war is too costly, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and Osama bin Laden hasn't been apprehended, wherever he may be. Meanwhile, American servicemen continue to die and the Bush administration has yet to come up with an exit strategy.

Health care. Many Americans remain uninsured. The Democrats need to make an ideological case for universal coverage. In 1994, the insurance industry used its "Harry and Louise" ads to scare Americans away from the Clinton health-care plan. It seems that a viable solution will be hard to find -- in Europe, the wait for a doctor can be excruciating -- but it is rather callous to deny health care to those who need it, and the Democrats ought to keep searching for a way to provide it to all.

Squeezing the middle class. From student loans to credit cards to mortgages, Americans are getting into debt. Life for Generation X is comparable to the financial hardships of colonial America, when newcomers signed up for lives of indentured servitude. The Internal Revenue Service already allows people to deduct student-loan interest on their taxes, but more deductions (for a certain amount of principal) should be offered to allow young people to save more money.

Education. This is one area where the Democrats have long been committed to helping the cause of minorities in this country. More than 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education, minorities frequently remain drastically underserved in our nation's schools. What can be done? The Republicans want school vouchers (if they even care about the issue at all). Like it or not, the Democrats may have to deal with the teachers' unions, who are resistant to enforcing standards among educators.

The Democrats need to create a workable agenda for the 21st century. They have been defining themselves according to what President Bush has done, and this is a weak, reactive policy. The problem is that the Democrats are now split into several wings: the establishment, which includes James Carville and the Democratic Leadership Council, and the insurgents (Howard Dean pre-2005,, Al Franken). The problem is that the establishment is too pragmatic, while the insurgents are too hysteric. Yet both of these camps have the same policy: React to what Bush does. It is the challenge of the Democrats to pursue a more independent policy based on a coherent ideology that will make this party once again attractive enough to voters to carry out its agenda in Washington, DC and across the country.


At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.


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